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  • Mirovoi krizis 1914–1920 godov i sud´ba vostochnoevropeiskogo evreistva[The World Crisis of 1914–20 and the Fate of East European Jewry]
  • Brian Horowitz
Oleg Vital´evich Budnitskii et al., eds., Mirovoi krizis 1914–1920 godov i sud´ba vostochnoevropeiskogo evreistva [The World Crisis of 1914–20 and the Fate of East European Jewry]. 447 pp. + index. Moscow: R OSSPEN, 2005. ISBN 5824307334.

The challenge of any book on Jews in Russia and Eastern Europe during World War I is to confront the traditional view of the Jew as all-round victim. Jews living in areas of military action, as one recalls, were abused by the Russian forces. A glance at Shimon Dubnov's third volume of his History of the Jews in Russia and Polandconstructs the traditional historiography. 1But this viewpoint has been reinforced by contemporary historians, notably Peter Gatrell. 2Jews were accused of spying for the Germans, and hostages were taken as a pledge to prevent spying. Ultimately, several hundred thousand were exiled from their homes, often with little more than a 24-hour warning. At times evictions took place during winter, leaving the civilian population exposed to cold; hunger, thirst, and disease accompanied the evacuees during all seasons. 3 [End Page 258]

Instead of confronting this historiographical question head on, the scholars represented in this volume apply themselves to answering discrete problems, small issues, and concrete, empirical questions. The distinct advantage of such an approach, however, is that these scholars venture only into areas where they have real expertise. At the same time, I felt a lack of what one might call imaginative speculation or scholarly flight, efforts that sometimes lead to methodological or interpretative breakthroughs. The book could have been strengthened by the presentation of a greater number of personal narratives that showed how individuals understood what was occurring as events were unfolding.

One may divide the scholars in this volume into two groups based on their approaches. One finds either scholars who relate to the Jew as an object or those who relate to him as a subject. In the former group the historian is interested in how others, such as the Russian government, treated the Jews; while in the latter, the historian is interested in internal Jewish reactions and intra-Jewish relations.

Because of their training as scholars primarily of Russian history and culture, the majority of authors devote their work to the Jew as object—that is, to the treatment of Jews, in particular by Russian officials. One group of authors deals directly with violence against Jews perpetrated by military combatants. In his article "Russkoe komandovanie i evrei vo vremia Pervoi mirovoi voiny: Prichiny formirovaniia negativnogo stereotipa" (Russian Commanders and Jews in World War I: Causes of the Formation of a Negative Stereotype), Semen Goldin adds to what we know about the attitudes of Russian army commanders toward Jews. 4Goldin argues against Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern's thesis that officers' attitudes were more nuanced and less motivated by ideological principles. 5John Klier, well known for previous work on pogroms in Russia, takes issue with the reigning historiography on Cossack "war pogroms." 6He dispels the idea that these pogroms were ordered from above, noting that non-Jews were also victimized and the acts of violence against the Jewish civilian population took place without clear organization or premeditation. A fascinating treatment comes from Oleg Budnitskii, who presents debates over "Jewish battalions" in the early [End Page 259]Red Army. 7Already at the start of the Civil War, Zionist sympathizers raised the question of a Jewish battalion. Lev Trotskii and other Bolshevik leaders, however, questioned the practicality and ideological consequences of organizing the army according to nationality. Despite hesitation and haggling, the idea was ultimately approved but never realized. Budnitskii's essay has particular merit because he takes issue with the straightforward paradigm that Bolshevik leaders suppressed Zionism. He argues instead that while the Zionist political party was persecuted, Zionist ideas penetrated other contexts and challenged Bolshevism, so to speak, from within.

A number of authors treat the Jew as subject, using biography to study the ways individual Jews perceived and reacted to the events of the...


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